Applying to college is complicated enough for theatre, dance and music students—what with writing essays, soliciting recommendations and rehearsing material for auditions.
For students who wish to start their freshman year in fall 2014, the usual application deadline is in the spring, any time from late January to May 1. But many universities offer programs that are variously called Early Decision or Early Action that help students lock in their preferred school. Most of those schools set a fast-approaching deadline of Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 to apply for admission on these terms.
PlaybillEDU.com researched the terms and found that they mean various things to various schools, but here’s how it generally breaks down:
Early Action: Students who apply Early Action learn before New Year whether they’ve been accepted or rejected. It takes more focus and energy to get material together early in their senior year, but it can cut down on stress. The school promises to accept you, but you’re still free to apply elsewhere, knowing you have a guaranteed acceptance in your pocket. While everyone else is waiting and wondering, Early Action applicants who get accepted to their first-choice schools can rest easy. Early Action applicants who get rejected from their favorite schools still have time to apply “Regular Decision” elsewhere.
Early Decision: Early Decision applicants get their paperwork in early, just like Early Action, but that’s where the similarity generally ends. Early Decision is a legal contract binding you to the school. If a school accepts you on an Early Decision basis, you are required to go there (or at least to pay tuition), except under extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise the advantages are the same as Early Action, including the fact that you are also competing against a smaller pool of applicants than Regular Decision. PlaybillEDU.com spoke to selected admissions officials to let them explain the pros and cons of each.
Chris Andersson, Director of Admissions for the Drama Department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, explained that Early Decision helps performing arts students who want to attend a particular favorite school, either for its program, its location or for a particular teacher. Auditions and portfolios can be customized for the school. “It’s a plus for them statistically because the pool of early applicants is slightly smaller and therefore acceptance rate for Early Decison is slightly higher,” he said. “It also saves money on [multiple] application fees. Other than that, the same evaluators are using the same criteria, and the process is the same. It takes a lot of stress off because you are done with your application by mid December.” On the downside, students must get organized early, preparing not only their paperwork, but their audition pieces and/or portfolio material early, generally by the end of October.
Andersson offered a tip for Early Decision applicants. “We advise students to prepare all the rest of their ['regular decision'] applications as well. If you’re accepted here, no sweat. If not, well, you’ve already got your material ready to go, and it’s all written in a positive, hopeful, excited head, not an ‘oh no I just got denied by my top school’ head.”
NYU actually has two Early Decision deadlines, called Early Decision I on Nov. 1, 2013, and Early Decision II on Jan. 1, 2014. NYU does not offer Early Action.
Claire Fontijn, Professor and Chair of the Music Department at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and a member of the school’s board of admission, said it’s important to do your homework in order to fully understand the programs you are applying for. It’s tempting to apply to a “name” school for the value of its name alone. But it’s better to research the faculty and see if their expertise matches the kind of education you’re trying to get. Wellesley, for example, emphasizes the areas of piano, violin and voice, and has close to 60 faculty in the music department alone.
Fontijn said there is also a big difference between a conservatory, which is intensely focused on performance, and a liberal arts school, which allows you to study a wider range of subjects.
“A student applying to Wellesley should make sure she is interested in music in a liberal arts context,” she said. “We are a music department, not a conservatory, but we can do very advanced work here.”
Wellesley offers an Early Decision application program with a deadline of Nov. 1. If you are not accepted Early Decision, you are not allowed to try again as a Regular Decision applicant.
Joy St. John, Director of Admission for Wellesley College, explained that, in addition to Early Decision, applicants to Wellesley can choose a non-binding Early Evaluation option within their Regular Decision plan. Students who submit Regular Decision applications two weeks before the Regular Decision deadline (Jan. 1, instead of the Regular Decision deadline of Jan. 15), and select the Early Evaluation option on the Member Questions page of the Wellesley College Common Application, will receive an early notification in late February of their chances of admission. Students are notified online that their chances of admission are either "likely," "possible" or "unlikely."
University of Michigan
Emily Olson, senior admissions counselor at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, said that once a student makes a commitment through “Early Action,” they can start communication about scholarships and housing immediately.” Regular Decision students have to wait until May 1, which is a standard response date for many schools. The early application also gives performing arts students a better chance at booking a more convenient audition date. “Preferred audition dates fill up quickly,” Olson warned.
Olson’s tip is to contact her department directly if there is any confusion or question. Information changes periodically, and the large general-interest college websites are not always able to keep up with the nuances at every school. “I am here to advocate for students,” she said.
UM’s Early Decision deadline is Nov. 1, and its “Priority Decision” deadline is Dec. 1.
Use PlaybillEDU.com to get in contact with these and more than 1,000 other performing arts schools you may wish to consider. Check with each for specific terms and deadlines.